A day in the life of a teacher may rarely be the same two days in a row, but there are some common themes and occurrences. Take a look at the following two scenarios, and note which one seems more familiar to you.
Each school day, students have a lunch break built into their schedule. At the prescribed time, students put away their work and head outside, cafeteria, or other spot to hang out, play, eat, or relax. The teacher breathes a sigh of relief in the quiet classroom, and uses those moments to decompress, eat, and relax too.
At the prescribed lunch time break, students head out of the classroom and the teacher rushes to complete all the things they haven’t had time for yet: grading papers, last minute planning, offering extra help to students, meeting with administrators regarding student issues, replying to emails, checking all the personal emails, texts, and phone calls that they got earlier in the day, and if they’re lucky and have time, eat something quickly before the next class period starts.
Why Teachers Need Recess
Most teachers identify more closely with the second scenario. Depending on your school, the grade level you teach, and a variety of other factors, the details may vary, but the idea is the same: Teacher’s don’t get recess. Its more like a quick breather than a break. But teachers should have a recess, too. Not just to catch up and do more work-related things, but to do something fun, (or at the least, not work-related) for a short period of time before concentrating on work stuff again.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is noted for his studies on happiness and creativity, though one (rather famous) experiment he conducted offers some excellent insight into why taking breaks from work is important. For the experiment in question Csikszentmihalyi instructed the test subjects to do everything they have to do, but nothing “play” or “non-instrumental”. Wash the dishes, but don’t take a break to dance. No sitting at the table chatting idly after dinner – get up and clean the dishes and the kitchen. And so on and so forth. Unfortunately, he had to stop the experiment after two days, because completing only necessary activities with no “play” interspersed gave his test subjects symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder after only 48 hours. They complained of sluggishness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and more.
Less like “want”, more like “need”
As it turns out, we actually do need to play, turn off, check out, or whatever you’d like to call it. We’ve all seen the many reports that vacations make us more productive, that science says taking naps is good for us (and our productivity). Most of the time, we joke about this sort of thing – as though real people could actually have time for that?! And sadly, our cultural norms have shifted to a point where if you do take time off, or a nap, or even that lunch break, you’re seen as not dedicated, less of a hard worker than some of your peers, or just plain lazy.
Looking back at Csikszentmihalyi’s study and pairing it with some anecdotal evidence from just about anyone and a dash of personal experience should make us say “well of course we need to take a break”. Yet, most of us don’t – especially teachers. There are always going to be too many things to get done every day, but maybe we’ll be able to be more productive if we actually take breaks! So when you have that ‘recess’ time – use it! Play silly games on your phone, text with friends or family, chat with colleagues, or indulge in some pleasure reading.